The Chicago Bears have one of the best young safeties in the game today, but 2020 will mark the third straight season he’ll open up with a new running mate along side him. Two years ago it was Adrian Amos working next to Pro Bowler Eddie Jackson, last year it was HaHa Clinton-Dix patrolling the secondary with Jackson, and this year the Bears will either turn to a holdover entering his fifth year in Chicago with 8 starts in 54 career games, or an eight year pro on his fourth team with 104 starts in 112 games.
There aren’t many starting spots open during this year’s training camp, but the battle between Deon Bush and Tashaun Gipson Sr. will be one to watch.
Bush has had a few spot starts during his time in Chicago, but he’s had more reps on special teams than on defense. In 2019 he played the fewest snaps on D in his career, but every offseason the coaches always have nice stuff to say about him. The Bears brought him back for 2020 on a one year deal with every intention on him competing for a starting job, but they also signed Gipson on a one year deal to do the same.
From a contractual stand point, Bush actually signed for more money, but the coaches have been adamant this starting spot is anyone’s game.
“When we talked to Tashaun about coming, we laid it all out there and we talked to Deon, and we we said, ‘Here’s how it’s going to roll,’” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said on Thursday. “They’re going to get an equal number of snaps with the 1’s and they’re going to have to come in here and compete day after day after day. It’s going to be a little bit different, obviously, with no preseason but we’re going to create the competition and create the situations to where we can do an honest eval on those guys and give them both an opportunity to win that job.”
Some may want to think Eddie Jackson had a down year because his numbers weren’t as flashy, but the offenses he faced in 2019 don’t believe that. NFL.com’s Nick Shook took at look at the top defensive backs in coverage last year and he had Jackson at number five. Not number five among safeties but number five among all defensive backs.
5 - Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears · FS
Passer rating allowed: 49.9
Catch rate allowed below expectation: -20.9
Tight window pct: 16.3
Target rate: 8.1
Average separation yards: 2.9.
Jackson doesn’t get targeted all that much (43 times in 2019) and his ballhawk rate (9.3 percent) doesn’t jump off the screen, but quarterbacks are consistently frustrated by his coverage. Look no further than Jackson’s passer rating allowed of just 49.9 and his catch rate allowed below expectation of -20.9 percent. That’s by far the best mark of any player on this list, and while a lower total of targets has something to do with it, it’s still very impressive. The only number that is surprisingly low is Jackson’s interception total, as he’s demonstrated a nose for the ball in years past. His overall coverage resume is tough to argue with, though.
Nothing helps turnovers more than a pass rush, and if Chicago’s is back closer to their 2018 level then expect Jackson’s interceptions — and big plays — to go up.
A good bet to make it
With Jordan Lucas opting out and Kentrell Brice getting waived, the Bears may not make any changes to what they currently have on the roster at safety. If the Bears don’t bring in another at the position then both DeAndre Houston-Carson and Sherrick McManis have a good chance to make the 53-man roster.
EDIT: On August 11 the Bears signed Marqui Christian, who played safety, nickleback, and was a core special teamer for the Rams the last few years. Jacob Infante has more on the signing here.
On the bubble
If the Bears elect to only carry four safeties like they did in 2018, then Houston-Carson and McManis will be battling it out for that final spot, but they both bring such value on special teams it’d be hard to let either go.
I know a lot of fans want to see Stephen Denmark converted to safety, but that doesn’t appear to be in the plans for this coaching regime and the 6’2”, 217 pounder will remain at corner.
A recent article on the team’s website referenced Duke Shelley as a nickle and a reserve safety, so that may help his chances at a roster spot, but I’ll get into him more in my look at the corners.